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Scholes Street Studio: For the Music You Can't Hear in Bars

Bushwick's DIY music scene gets a lot of hype—but one local space is offering musicians with more formal training a place to collaborate, play, and perform

Artists By Any Other Name perform in 2015 (courtesy of Scholes Street Studio).

Bushwick's DIY music scene gets a lot of hype—but one local space is offering musicians with more formal training a place to collaborate, play, and perform.

“We want to host the music people can't hear in bars,” says Anita Mercier, co-owner, with her husband René Pierre Allain, of the new music rehearsal and performance space Scholes Street Studio.

“We lived in a loft on North 10th Street and Bedford for almost 30 years and used to host concerts there,” she says. “We’d make dinner and have people over and musicians we knew could get some practice testing their stuff out. It became my mission to bring classical music to Williamsburg!”

Anita is a pianist and member of the liberal arts faculty at Juilliard; René is a visual artist. When the couple and their two daughters were forced out of their apartment to make way for the Printhouse Lofts, they bought the dilapidated former Pentecostal church (and before that, former meat market, and before that, former private 19th-century mansion) on the corner of Scholes and Lorimer.

“We wanted a place to continue and expand that mission,” she says. After two and a half years of hardcore renovation (much of it done or overseen by René, who has metalworking chops), the couple opened Scholes Street Studio in late 2013. They live upstairs, and René has an art studio in the building’s garage.

Scholes Street Studio (all photos courtesy of René Pierre Allain/Scholes Street Studio).

“I should mention,” says Anita, “that this idea really germinated in Bushwick, because I took a business planning workshop at 3rd Ward to get us started. It was extremely helpful for drawing up our business plan, for approaching banks to get a loan... I’m an academic and René’s an artist—we’re not exactly business people!”

Scholes Street functions largely as a rehearsal venue, mostly for composers and performers of new music (which the couple describes as classically-based music by classically-trained, living composers that often incorporates elements of jazz or world music), as well as the occasional indie band, “though those are usually ‘hybrid’ bands with cellos or violins or something,” says René.

“A lot of new music people live in East Williamsburg and Bushwick,” he says. “They’re just as youthful and enthusiastic as the people in straight-ahead rock bands here, except they’re really into, like, very austere German music or something! Actually, they’re more eclectic than that: young musicians are open to everything. They just want to break down barriers. Steve Reich and Philip Glass are their granddaddies; not Mozart. These are the people who interest us most.”

Scholes Street can be rented by the hour or the day. A group might come once to rehearse for an upcoming show, or a composer might rent it every morning for six months to write a whole record. An array of gear like a Yamaha grand piano, Ludwig drums from the ‘50s, vintage vibraphones, and nice amps, mics, and a PA are also available, as are René’s photography, video, and audio recording skills.

“We get lots of repeat bookings,” Anita says. “Not just from musicians based in New York, but from out of towners, too. People like the ‘high-end living room’ feel here and the fact that we’re part of the new music community. They tell their friends about us and keep coming back.”

Hotel Elefant rehearse in 2015

Scholes Street also hosts performances, mostly on evenings and weekends, that take the shape of senior recitals, album releases, or straight-up shows. Capacity is 40-ish.

“There’s just this one space, so it’s very quiet, no noise bleed,” René says. “The windows facing out to Lorimer are triple-paned and double insulated. And the acoustics are just great; every musician seems to respond to them, whether their sound is quiet and delicate or heavy and loud.”

Another point of pride for Scholes Street’s proprietors is that it’s not a place for background music. “When people come here for a concert, they really want to hear it,” Anita says. “They’re not talking; they’re not distracted by the bar. Both sides appreciate that our audiences are devoted and attentive.”

“This studio is really an extension of us,” she continues. “It reflects our creative interests and lives. People come in all excited about this gig they’re doing or this opera they’re putting on... It brings us a lot of pleasure.”

After leaving North Williamsburg, René says, “I didn’t want to go down to Florida and be with a bunch of old people—I wanted to stay here with a bunch of young people! We love being part of the energy and being in a place where people can harness it.

“Plus,” he says, “artists don’t really retire.”

Experimental flute and piano duo h2f2 plays Scholes Street Studio this Saturday night, April 2, at 8:00 pm. Tickets are $10 at the door. Bonus: Flutist Nicholas Handahl is also co-owner of Manhattan Ave coffee shop 19 Cafe.

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